AN AFTERNOON ON THE SEA CLOUD
By - Nancy Terrell (Nautical Scene Feature Story)
Its a good thing that I had my VHF on the other morning. A very familiar male voice came across the waves - "ANTARES, ANTARES, ANTARES-SEA CLOUD, SEA CLOUD". Having sailed the British Virgin Islands for over a decade, I often see the majestic 316 foot yacht glide through our waters. I never thought that she would hail me, however. With anticipation I answer her call only to find that the son of one of my best friends is third in command of the ship.
Paul Bonge is a handsome young sailor who has lived and sailed all over the planet. I have known him since he was a child. He has sailed with SEA CLOUD every spring for the past thirteen years. I speak with him often when he calls by phone, but this is our first encounter on the water. Receiving an invitation for lunch, I rush around getting my camera, notebook and any mail that I have recently received from his father, Lyle Bonge, builder and skipper of the lovely 44 sloop LOTUS. With Dave Cooper at the helm, we set out in our dinghy for SEA CLOUD, at anchor just between the Indians and The Caves on Norman Island.
I feel small and insignificant coming alongside her beam. Ninety guests, with seventy crew, laugh in amusement as we try to tie off, with grace, at her companionway. It seems that we are all bumps and grinds, while she remains stately and stable. Paul welcomes us with open arms and I feel pride seeing the three stripes on his epaulets. Meekly, but with great enthusiasm, we climb the long stairway leading to the outer port corridor.
SEA CLOUD has a unique history. The original name of this magnificent yacht was HUSSAR. She was designed by Cox and Stevens of New York and built in Germany in 1931 during the depression. E.F. Hutton, a wealthy investment broker in the United States, had the yacht built as a present for his wife, Marjorie Merryweather Post, the heiress to General Foods. Marjorie loved it. They both felt that it was proper for yachtsmen to keep their large vessels in commission, because the yearly expenditures of $100,000 or more would help the faulty economy. At the time, this is the most spectacular of the big yachts, 316 feet long and rigged as a four-masted bark with thirty towering square sails measuring 30,000 square feet.
Following her divorce from Hutton and subsequent marriage to Joseph P. Davies, Marjorie renamed the yacht SEA CLOUD and kept it in commission for many years, sailing her to ports around the world She did, indeed, help the economy as the stately vessel carried a crew of seventy-two to work all those sails and the monthly payroll of $20,000.. This seemed reasonable for a vessel that had cost $900,000 to build, even at depression prices. In 1942, at the request of President Roosevelt, SEA CLOUD was covered with gray war paint and lent to the U.S. Coast Guard by Ms. Post, to serve as a weather ship in the rough North Atlantic under the name of IX99. In 1944, she is honorable discharged from war service and in 1947 she is re-rigged. In 1952, she is sold to Raffael Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic. He re-christens the ship after his daughter - ANGELITA. After Trujillos sudden demise the ship becomes the property of the Dominican Republic and is re-christened PATRIA.
Ownership within the United States begins in 1964 when the PATRIA is sold and becomes a sailing school ship under the name of ANTARNA. The ship is mothballed in Panama in 1974 and forgotten until an enthusiastic group of Hamburg businessmen and ship owners resurrect her, re-christening her as the SEA CLOUD. They take her back to Germany for a loving restoration of her original interiors and re-furbish the yacht with state-of-the-art equipment and technology.
SEA CLOUD is now a very exclusive yacht, if a bit intimidating. Paul takes us on a first class tour and I must say that both David and I are equally impressed. Lunch is served exquisitely on fine linens on the deck. Gourmet items from around the world are served. I am in seventh heaven. SEA CLOUD has two captains, each serving six months at sea. We meet Captain Herwig and his lovely wife, Jeanie, who tell us interesting stories concerning the lovely yacht.
Dave is most interested in the rigging. There is a rigger and crew for each mast. I am most interested in the antiques aboard and the wooden and brass fixtures. An air of romance and yesteryear fills the air. I think back to the thirties and try to visualize the life of Ms. Post as she sailed the worlds seas on her luxury yacht. As my life is so different, I have trouble visualizing the reality of this. It appears as a movie in my mind.
Paul is just as I remember him. He is used to this luxury. What he really wants is some good conversation and an old fashioned hamburger. We waste no time in whisking him away in our dinghy--to the Willy T of course. All in all, it was a splendid afternoon.
Below is Lyle Bonge (right), I am in the center and Paul Bonge is on the right. We have been friends for 30 years.